Canada: economic star (without vision or responsibility)

Everybody in Alberni-Qualicum got a lame-ass flyer from our MP, Dr. James Lunney, last week. It contains all of about 40 words (Dr. Lunney doesn’t like to tax his constituents with nuance) and is headlined Canada: an economic star (quoting The Economist magazine).

The above is my response on the clip-and-mail return coupon provided, urging the good doctor and his party toward some progressive — or at the very least, non-obstructionist — action on the most pressing problem of the world’s many pressing problems. Continue reading “Canada: economic star (without vision or responsibility)”

No tankers wanted here, suh!

At the behest of the very effective Dogwood Institute, here’s my letter to the new Liberal party environment critic,Gerard Kennedy. Oil tankers in the Great Bear Rainforest region, and the attendant Enbridge pipeline, are such monumentally bad ideas that they take my breath away. If we put all that money and effort into sustainable energy strategies and technologies … we’d be there in 20 years. We’d never have another serious energy crisis, or climate crisis, or oil war. Europe is well on its way. I want us to be too.

Dear Mr. Kennedy (,

As you know, there’s a controversy going on in B.C. over the connected issues of oil tankers and the proposed Enbridge pipeline from the tar sands.

I am a resident of Tofino, in Clayoquot Sound. But i also consider myself a citizen of an ever-shrinking world, and i am doing what i can to make the world a better place for both our children and the larger ecosystems we all depend implicitly upon for our very lives. I am deeply concerned over how corporate needs — for raw materials, for weakened legislation, for unlimited profit — are trumping human needs in every sphere. Our present government understands nothing, it seems, but economic growth, and is content to lay waste to the earth in its bid for a “healthy” economy, no matter how unlivable that world is for people.

Your Liberal party is Canada’s best hope for widening this ruinously narrow vision of our future, and as Liberal Party of Canada Environment Critic you are well placed to have a positive influence over what transpires in coming years. We both know that allowing oil tankers to traverse Hecate Strait, Dixon Entrance, and Queen Charlotte Sound will over time guarantee that oil spills will happen.

Of even greater concern to me is that continuing to build oil infrastructure, especially around dirty tar sands oil, only makes our climate crisis worse, and at the same time distracts us from building a sustainable energy infrastructure. This path is pouring money down a rathole, and makes the consequences for our climate future even more dire than they will apparently be already. It is a grossly irresponsible choice for a government to make.

I urge you and the Liberal party to do what is right: please commit, loudly and publicly, to a legislated ban on oil tankers through Canada’s Pacific north coast. And time is of the essence — please do it before the end of the year.

Thank you for a principled, meaningful stand on environmental issues!

~greg blanchette, Tofino

Spectacular gibberish

This fun bit of graffiti came my way today (thanks, Warren), and seems to be fitting given the paroxysm-of-the-week going on in Vancouver, where a new downtown bike lane has recently been approved.

Tofino, thankfully, is free of such nonsense — though me do have our share of both gas-foot Neanderthals and boneheaded cyclists. But at least we’re not at the stage of requiring columns like this October 7 one, by Province columnist Ethan Baron, that starts:

An outpouring of spectacular gibberish

What part of cheaper, healthier, environmentally beneficial don’t these folks understand?

There appears to be no end to the irrationality of citizens opposed to separated bike lines in downtown Vancouver. The city’s approval Tuesday of a Hornby Street trial lane has provoked an outpouring of spectacular gibberish.

“These cyclist Nazis are taking over our city,” one Province reader laments on our website. “They will not be happy until all our streets are converted too [sic] bike lanes.”

Another reader complains that drivers are “subsidizing” cyclists….

In the column (link), Baron goes on to demolish the common preconceptions of auto supremacists in refreshingly blunt manner.

Geez, people, the world is changing. I know it’s uncomfortable, but you’ve got to start adapting the habits that you’ve coasted along on for the last 40 years.

B-au naturel

A rediscovered post from last August, when i was travelling:

Those who know me won’t be surprised by the true confession that i don’t use deodorant. Apart from a brief stint in my impressionable teens, when my parents tried to convence me that deodorant is the very glue that holds civil society together, i could never get past the idea that smearing or spraying chemical gunk on a fairly permeable area of one’s skin was a smart thing to do. I also didn’t buy that human odour was necessarily offensive to we creatures who have been smelling it, presumably, since we dropped from the trees.

Sure, there’s a point at which. But given basic hygiene, the occasional shower and the odd load of laundry, we should be able to put up with each other au naturel, no?

However, it has been a long, hot summer. And i’ve been travelling by Greyhound bus, spending much time in close proximity with strangers And i’m living out of a small backpack, with just three shirts to my name, in hostels and other accomm’s with limited laundry facilities. Sometimes — i admit it — i stink.

Last week i decided to see what i could do about it, and went into a drugstore while my clothes were drying in the laundromat, to check out … gulp … the deodorant aisle. There were dozens of products, arrayed in colourful packaging along multiple feet of shelves, that one could roll, wipe or spray on, in tantalizing scents from none through floral or spicy straight into industrial. They all cost in the $3-4 range, except for the frightening “extra strength” products, which were up around $8. But a quick check of the ingredients list was sobering. Here’s the formula for Old Spice Classic Antiperspirant & Deodorant Stick (from this link):

Active ingredient: aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly (16%) (anhydrous)

Inactive ingredients: cyclopentasiloxane, stearyl alcohol, talc, dimethicone, hydrogenated castor oil, fragrance, polyethylene, silica, dipropylene glycol, behenyl alcohol

    Gak! I don’t know about you, but none of that sounds like stuff I want to smear on my skin on a regular basis, never mind wash all that crap down the drain into the water system (an aspect of product use we don’t generally think about).

    A quick Google search for “toxic deodorant ingredients” yields a thousand reasons to stay away from all of the above.

    But the invisible hand of the market being the thoroughgoing extremity it is, there’s usually a “green” alternative to most everything these days. Exploring further on the drugstore shelves, i noticed a small “natural” deodorant section, with about half a dozen choices. I finally settled on one that is, basically, just a stick of salt — not table salt (sodium chloride) but ammonium alum, a mineral salt. The chemical name for its lone ingredient is aluminium ammonium sulfate — something i can actually pronounce — and its chemical formula is [Al(NH4)](SO4)2 (Wikipedia entry for chem nerds).

    What you do is wet the top of the salt stick with water, then rub it on your pits, kind of like you might season a turkey. You’ve gotta do the scarecrow thing with your arms for a minute until it dries, but then … protected!

    Did it work? Bearing in mind that i have no baseline to compare it to, yes. Pretty well. Nobody ever moved to another seat in disgust. I’ve still got the stick, and use it before any potentially high-stress, nervewracking situation. Although my first line of defense against such annoyances is to avoid them in the first place.

    Art, head on

    I had an interesting conversation the other day. Two young women came into the office to ask some questions and make a donation. One of them looked at me closely and said, “Are you the guy who wrote that piece about art in Tofino Time a while ago?”

    I knew what she was referring to — a locally infamous rant about the Tofino art scene that sparked discussion, and dissention, among local artists and art lovers. (See some reaction in the blog post below.) I said yes, sheepishly, stunned that anyone after five months would remember it and bring it up again. I wondered why she asked.

    “I’m an art student and i’m staging a show in a month,” she said. “I want to invite you to come and see it … and slam it.”

    This startled me on a couple of fronts. First (because, after all, it’s all about me) that i seemed to now have an enduring rep as (a) an art critic and (b) some kind of art-eating carnivore.

    Second, it was the audacity of the gal to spontaneously invite such a “slamming.”

    “Now wait a minute–,” her companion said, protectively, probably thinking she was doing something impulsive and crazy.

    “No,” the artist interrupted, “the critical process is an important part of the art scene.”

    “Wow,” i said, “that’s pretty … not ballsy, let’s say gonad-y.” She laughed.

    I explained that i would not automatically slam anything, that my art rant in Tofino Time was as much fiction as critique. But i couldn’t help being impressed that she was actually hungry for a reaction — even a lambasting — from what she seemed to think was the fiercest (or maybe just the most outspoken) critic in town.

    On reflection, that nervy request seems to me one of the most genuine expression of artistic integrity i’ve come across. The sentiment that I’ve done my best, now do your worst speaks strongly of the her view of art and its place in her world.

    She said her work was “just student quality” — she’s a first-year student at a cross-island art college. The phrase “student work” fell harshly on my ears, but i wasn’t quite sure why. Afterwards, it occurred to me there are two aspects to visual art: the skill with which it is executed, and the (harder to articulate) content of the art — what it says, or means, or invokes. And i thought, to label something “student quality” is to do it an injustice from the outset. Skill of execution is a continuous spectrum, that starts with a child’s first crude scrawl with a crayon and evolves from there; there’s no “arrival” at professional quality, there’s just a gradual and ideally continuous increase in competence.

    So “student quality” doesn’t bother me, because i think most of us can look beyond the quality of execution of a work to get at least an inkling of its content — whether it’s merely trying to be an attractive picture, or there’s something more underlying the effort. Which is, in a nutshell, what my Toff Time article was about.

    Without cue from me, she pointed out that one of her techniques is to re-use her old paint chips in new works, because she didn’t like the thought of just sending them to the landfill. This interested me immediately, because one of my concerns about art is its environmental impact — all the plastic and chemicals it uses, the consequences of which most artists, in their ecstasy of creation, seem oblivious to.

    I look forward to seeing this woman’s painting and drawing, and trying to give her an honest reaction. This will be near impossible, i fear. She is well liked in the community and, i think, senses she will get little but unqualified support from the public. I doubt i’m going to find much to “slam,” if only because she already has the confidence to stand up and invite it.

    Art is hard, even in its simplest incarnation. As anybody who’s sat down with a pencil and a piece of paper knows, it’s damn difficult to produce something that’s even just passably pleasing to the eye, never mind embodying something deeper. I don’t want to set up impossible expectations here, but that’s what i’ll be looking for come July 24th (an approximate date, i think).